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A crazed lupine muzzle, blood-slavering fangs, yellow eyes flaming within the black depths of the dust-jacket; with a villain called Slaughter and a hero named Gerontius, you might think you were in for a taste of the Victorian Gothics. In fact, this novel begins in the mean streets of present day Shepherd’s Bush and ends up in the National Gallery. Yes, a werewolf is on the loose and there’s a rich helping of spurting gore and crunching bones. What is lacking, unfortunately, is tension; and in a novel where one group of characters is being hunted by a werewolf being hunted by the Met, you do need to be turning anxiously on to the next page.
The problem lies in both character and plot. There is little to distinguish characters by their dialogue, from murdering bank-robber to teenage student to grizzled Austrian werewolf hunter. All seem to be at the convenience of the plot. When Gerontius begins to explain why he is so named, the murdering bank robber reveals a love of classical music, with a special interest in Elgar, a passion which comes out of nowhere and disappears as swiftly whence it came. When the pursuing werewolf needs to know where his quarry is headed, his victim handily drops a map with the destination circled. And when Haller, the werewolf in human form, needs to find Slaughter at home, we are told that he knows the way since he once followed the man to his house from work – though previously we have been told that they had met for the first time that morning at Slaughter’s scrap yard. These implausibilities are a pity, since the novel is strong when it comes to violent action or moments such as the transformation from man to werewolf and a powerful revelation in the denouement. But to keep the pages turning urgently, a reader needs to care more for the characters as distinctive individuals, to feel it matters whether or not they evade those slashing fangs.